“Wow. Only $30.62 for all that? We’re coming back here my sweet petunia garden.” My boyfriend was pleased, and full, after our meal of chicken broth, tofu with salted fish, beef ribs and bok choy. We had headed out for a late dinner to our usual pho joint, but as was made apparent by the noticeable increase of prostitutes on International Blvd and the Closed sign when we arrived, we had headed out too late. We kept on driving down International to our pho back-up place, but when they were closed too we went to the first place we saw that was open across the street.
The three flat screen TVs hung up throughout the fluorescent lit Chinese restaurant were all playing the same bad soap opera with a consistent level of overacting. The scene cut from a fire in a bedroom with laughable special effects to a modern day courthouse in which the attorneys were wearing Beethoven-esque wigs. We bounced around the idea of having International Bad Soap Opera Week, an entertainment take off of the Olympics, as a way to unite countries far and wide: let’s set aside our differences and celebrate our commonalities – we all make bad television sometimes.
The food was good, and cheap, but not free. Alejandro pulled out a thin crumpled pile of bills from his pocket and started to count it out. Emphasis on thin. A 5, wait no two 5s, a 1, another 1, a 5, what’s that a 20?, no another 5. 22 dollars. I looked at him.
“Please tell me that’s not all you have.” I left out calling him any of the many ridiculous pet names we often throw at each other.
“Calm yourself. There’s more in the car.” So did he.
As he walked out of the restaurant, I made sure my short-term memory wasn’t failing me again. Alejandro and I take turns paying for meals, and before we left the house we had established that it was his turn – he had paid for the tasty diner breakfast earlier that day that was delicious when we ate it but fifteen minutes later made us feel like we’d guzzled a pint of lard juice; I had paid for the corn dogs and garlic fries at the Berkeley Kite Festival, just a mere six hours after we had sworn off bad food. I looked at the clock with a picture of a rooster in the background. 9:52pm. I was already 22 minutes behind my schedule for work that night and I started to get antsy.
Alejandro walked back in. “That’s all there is. One of us has to go back and get more quiche.”
I was not amused. Not by having to go back for more cash, and not by his deliberately mispronounced and drawled out way of saying cash, which usually made me chuckle.
“Are you serious? It’s your turn to pay and that’s all you brought?”
“I thought we were going to pho! Pho is never more than twenty bucks.”
“Tell me you’re kidding right now. I don’t have time for this.”
“Well one of us has to go. Do you want to go or do you want me to go?”
“You’re the one that screwed up. You go.”
As Alejandro left the restaurant again, I looked back up at the clock and got more agitated. It’d be at least 30 and more likely 40 minutes before he’d get back, which meant I wouldn’t be able to get back to work for another hour. I hadn’t brought my purse, so I didn’t even have my phone to read some articles on the power of mindfulness, or flitter about on Facebook.
My eyes went to the rooster again. 10:00pm. Just as I felt myself getting more mad as I listed out all the things I had a right to be mad about (he didn’t bring enough cash, he didn’t have emergency cash in the car, he didn’t even apologize, I didn’t have my phone with me, on and on and blah blah blah), I realized that I could spend the next 35 minutes getting myself more pissed off with an ugly look on my face, or I could spend that time – well, better.
I decided to not be a sour puss. Instead of being annoyed by not having my phone, I appreciated being technology-free and reminisced about “the good ‘ol days” before everyone was buried into their screens in public. I looked around the restaurant and noticed a beautiful vase at the entrance which held vibrant lotuses and remembered the times I went to the annual Lotus Festival in LA. There was a group of older adults sitting at one of the large round tables in the back and I imagined that they were old friends from high school, and some stayed in Taiwan while others moved to the U.S. and they were spending the week together and catching up on old times. I noticed a young woman wearing black yoga pants and a grey hoodie who was speed walking laps around a table as she waited for her take out order, and I got an idea for a short story about a woman who people thought was a little loony, but she had just bought a Fitbit.
By the time Alejandro came back, I was daydreaming about story ideas and wasn’t thinking about what time it was. He rushed in, wallet in hand, paid the bill, and gushed out apologies as we walked out.
“I’m so, so sorry my pumpkin cake face. Really. I’ll make it up to you.”
“It’s ok sugar lips. Really. No reason to feel bad, just give me a kiss.”
It hadn’t felt easy at the time, but a simple decision – to not be a sour puss and just try to enjoy myself – let me avoid a half hour of futile seething and instead have a pretty nice time, even with bad soap operas playing in the background.